Word History Grammar Index Page

Origin of the Household Words

The Classics Are In Your House Too!

Look about your house and you will find many words with interesting and often Latin origin. An article by Rob Kyff in the Hartford Courant in 1994 points out several links.

Foyer, cellar, vestibule, kitchen, pantry, attic and story (as in the level on which rooms are located) all have classical roots.

Foyer comes to us via the French foier which means fireplace. Foier in turn has evolved from the Latin focus meaning fireplace. How does a foyer, meaning entrance hall have a connection with a fireplace? In the 17th and 18th centuries, homes in this country and perhaps others had a keeping room through which one entered the home. Here one hung cloaks, sat at a table and perhaps had a warm drink on a cold day in front of a fireplace. In Europe, the chateaux and castles also had guard rooms. A huge fireplace is evident as soon as one enters a guard room which was more often than not, the entrance to the home as well. An interesting aside with this word is the English words focus and focal also have a link to the Latin focus. One usually will have a fireplace as a focal point in a room. It is always a hard decision to decide what to hang over the fireplace since the eye is usually drawn there first.

Cellar has evolved from the Latin word cella which means a storage room. Today we use the word basement more commonly to refer to that area beneath the living area. A cellar however was originally a storage area in which one kept produce prior to refrigeration.

Vestibule generally refers today to either an entry hall (foyer) or a small entry area with two doors. This acts as a weather guard when one enters or exits the home. It is particularly useful in the north. It is also an area where one might hang a coat and remove boots prior to entering the main house. The Latin word vestis, vestis m. means garment or clothing. A vestibulum, vestibuli n. means entrance hall.

Kitchen itself evolves in a convoluted fashion from coquinus, coquini m. - of cookery, related to cooking (adj); coquus, -i,m. - a male cook and coqua, -ae, f. - a female cook. The term one uses to refer to terms dealing with the kitchen has a more direct connection. Culinary comes to English from the word for kitchen culina, culinae f.

Pantry refers to a storage closet off the kitchen. The Latin word panis, panis m. - bread is the root. One might keep bread in a pantry.

Attic comes to us from Greek. Attica is a region of Greece around Athens. Here, and elsewhere in Greece, one finds wonderful temples. The upper area of the temples was often used as storage. It was ample and not accessible to the people and thus a very good area to hide away those items not in use at the time.

Story when it refers to the level of a house comes from the same root that gives us history. Historia literally means story, inquiry. When many could not read, stories were sung by bards. Later images that told the story were painted on walls or featured in sculptures and friezes. In the middle ages, stained glass windows told biblical tales. Since these were often stacked into levels, the first story might explain one portion of the tale, the second another etc., the idea of different floors being called stories came into being.

^ Verba

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